Chapter 24 - Heat

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The kiss was like fire, consumed her slowly, embracing her like molten lava. The smell of James was everywhere, intoxicating her, sending her off on a high she'd never felt before. His hands held her in a tight grip, never wanting to let her go as he kissed her again and again. Nora's breath was heavy, as if she'd just been running for hours, her heart pounded hard, threating to break her ribs. Time stood still and ran away at the same time, leaving them spiraling into nothing and everything. The wall behind her was hard and cold, the only anchor that reminded her of where she was as James's calloused fingers traced her collarbone before traveling down her chest towards her waist where they gripped her tight and pulled her closer. Her hair was tangled and splayed across her face, her cheeks red and chafed from James's stubble. In the intensity of it all, she found it hard to breathe. But she also found that she did not want it to stop. It felt so right, so good. With her eyes closed, she let James consume her. Wrapped in his arms they were all that mattered. Everything else was forgotten. And after all that she'd been through, it felt good to forget for a while, for something to be enjoyed instead of feared. But the moment did not last long. As James lifted her off the floor, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, Nora opened her eyes. And as he laid her down on the bed, hovering over her, she realized exactly what she was doing, and who she was doing it with. Suddenly, reality washed over her a wave of like cold water.

"Stop", she gasped, crawling back on the bed. "STOP!" Midmovement, James stopped, looking at her with hungry eyes. He was panting, his lips slightly parted.

"What?" he grunted.

"We can't do this", Nora whispered, creating more and more space between them, as to not be tempted. James furrowed his brows, looking down on her.

"Anh why the hell not, love?" he sighed, leaning back.

"Well..." Nora started. "Because." Snorting and rolling his eyes, James got up from the bed and walked over to his desk.

"That's your reason?"

"Yes. Or well no. You were trying to kill me just a few minutes ago. I've been your prisoner for all the time we've known each other. It's not right. I- I just can't." Nora crawled into a ball on the bed, studying James as he drank heavily, the amber liquid running down his throat.

"Does everything have to be so complicated with you?" James muttered, pinching his nose with his fingers.

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you of all people lack the morale to see why this is wrong." Suddenly, James turned around and met her gaze, his eyes two blue flames of anger.

"You think you're so much better than all of us, don't you?" he hissed. "You sit there on your high horse, looking down on us like we're vermin. And then you act all innocent, like I haven't seen the longing in your eyes, how the sea calls to you, just like it does to me, to all of us."

"I don't know what you're talking about", Nora whispered, surprised but James's sudden outburst.

"Bullshit." With a hint of something dangerous in his eyes, he walked up to her, leaned over the bed so they were face to face. "The way you act, how the sea calms you, how you move around this ship like it's all you've ever done. How easy it was for you to find a place here. You act like you're disgusted by this life, but we both know better. I know what your heart desires, and so do you. So don't for a second try that bullshit on me." His face was so close Nora could feel the warmth of his breath on her face. She watched his lips move as he talked and all she could think about was how they had felt on hers. But there was no time for that. And even though there was a part of her that thought James might be right, a part of her that had always longed for adventure, she also knew that he was wrong. The life he and his crew lived was not the life she wanted. Sure, she wanted to be something more that just a servant. But not to the prize of being a pirate, of killing people and standing idly by as the crew butchered towns just like they had butchered hers. No, it was not what she wanted.

"You don't know anything", she answered him, holding his gaze steady. "You're so occupied with being bad that you're missing everything else. You have been torturing me for months, having me on the brink of life and death since the moment we met. I watched you and your men slaughter half of the people in the town where I grew up. Everything you touch dies, so why should I let you near me, when my days are already numbered?" She spoke in a low voice, choosing her words carefully as she watched James's face.

"Maybe that's exactly why. If your days are already numbered, why won't you make the most of the time you have left?"

"It's cruel of you to say that. As if my last days could be anything else than miserable, and as if you aren't the one ending them." James smiled a crooked smile at her words.

"I am cruel, love. It's the life of a pirate."

"That's not true. You're not cruel, not deep down, I've seen it. I've watched you, and as badly as you want to be the worst man to ever walk this earth, there's good in you that won't go away, no matter how many you kill or torture." Desperation entered Nora's voice. She wanted so badly for him to see what she'd seen, to be the James she'd grown fond of. The James that flickered by for time to time, sending sparks of hope into the darkness that surrounded her.

"Now who's a liar?" James leaned back, walked away from her, emptying the bottle on his desk, the rum once again staining the collar of his shirt.

"The way you are with Jack, how you parent him like a son, how you protect him. That's what shows the good in you. How you sometimes let your guard down and show vulnerability. Or the fact that you've taunted me with my own death yet I'm still here. You have a good heart, James. Even if you don't want it." His back tensed as she spoke, his fists clenched hard at his sides. Nora knew it was a risk to utter the words she'd just said, but she'd seen a glimpse of goodness in him, and if there was ever a chance to plead to that, now was the time.

"You're out on thin ice, love."

"Haven't I always?" 

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